Gettysburg and Halloween: A spirits-filled combination

With thousands of young men killed or mortally wounded during the three days of August 1863. Photo: Mark Nesbitt / Joshua Chamberlain

VIENNA, Va ., October 30, 2013 —  It stands to reason that the bloodiest battle of the Civil War would lend itself to apparitions, ghosts, and other nuances suited to the October 31 holiday.  With thousands of young men killed or mortally wounded during the three days of July, 1863, who better to suffer the heartbreaking unable-to-cross-over situation that frequently is said to accompany a horrible and untimely death?  

And the little town of Gettysburg in Adams County, Pennsylvania is uniquely suited as a place for such happenings. The Adams County Arts Council has added to the spookiness with various activities throughout the week.

However, it is the battlefield and its environs which seem most normal for other-worldly apparitions, and they are easy to find.  It was Devil’s Den which, long after the battle was over, still harbored skeletons and even bodies not yet to that state in its crags and rocks, and quite possibly still does. With the passage of time, the bodies fall apart, and even larger bones can find their way through the weird rock structures; some may never have been found.

And almost every man killed there has been buried twice: once on the battlefield where he fell, and later on (if Union) on the hill which became the national cemetery.  Confederate bodies were simply moved to a vacant area and buried hastily, and these persons’ burial in unconsecrated ground may have led to their reappearance.  Many of these were later removed to cemeteries in the Southern states for proper burials.

Little Round Top also comes in for its share of ghostly experiences: a couple talked of stopping to rest during the climb up the high hill and saw a grizzled old man in a soldier’s uniform stop by them to chat. He also gave them a couple of pieces of ammunition.  He then basically disappeared.  There was a movie shooting nearby at the time, and the couple  assumed he was an extra, until asking around, and no one else had seen anyone like this man.  They went to one of the information booths and showed the ammunition, which was adjudged to be period pieces. 

The old Redding Farm, the scene of considerable fighting and carnage, also comes in for its sightings, to the extent that a sufficient number of visitors attest to the strange feelings and observations there.

SEE RELATED: Halloween’s Irish history: Samhain Harvest Festival

Perhaps Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Infantry said it best:

In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” 

Marker image by Ed Trexler /  Gen. Cororan (Historical file)

Marker image by Ed Trexler / Gen. Cororan (Historical file)

The sites in Gettysburg have been long studied and explored by numerous paranormal experts with special cameras and extra voice recorders (EVRs) and the groups have experienced a variety of sightings, soundings and other representations of the paranormal variety, some of which have been reported on cable stations devoted to this study. 

SEE RELATED: Halloween: The most haunted locations in the Washington DC region

The Farnsworth House and Inn, long a theoretical bastion of Gettysburg hostelry, comes in for ghosting also.  The rooms are named after various historical personages,   such as “Sarah Black” Room – only $175 a night; the “Custer Room;”  “Chamberlain Room;” and the like.  One couple staying in the “McFarlane” Room were visited during the night by a young man named Jeremy, thus proving that spirits come in all ages and sizes. 

Many of the reviews of the Farnsworth House were less than complimentary as to staff, accouterments and attention, so one is advised to check it out personally in advance, as ghosts may be the least of their problems. 

Jennie Wade is a normal Gettysburg apparition to many; the only civilian killed in the War, Jennie was baking bread to take to her sister and was struck by an errant projectile while in her kitchen.   She seems to be still there, doubtless checking on the long over-cooked bread. 

There are also several area “Ghost Tours,” the most notable of which is Johlene “Spooky” Riley’s tours. The vivacious appearing redhead leads groups of 25 in the evening and at midnight to the various sites which she feels are haunted, and people who have participated are pretty uniform in their reviews of “something was there….”   etc.  She has been part of several official paranormal investigations in the past, and remains one of the active sources for information. “Spooky,” as she is called, delights in taking people to the little known areas, back roads as it were, and alleys, where “the streets ran red with blood” on her perambulations. 

A Gettysburg resident and former NPS guide and resident historian, Mark Nesbitt, has written some six or seven books on ghosts and hauntings there, and comes across as a very intelligent, normal, sort of guy simply telling it as it is. His books may be found in the various bookstores there as well as online and his stories are extremely fascinating. 

Nesbitt tells how he basically transitioned from a story teller to something of a paranormal investigator. He explains that after publication of his first book on the ghosts, he began to get phone calls and letters on a daily basis by people with stories to share.  As he says in an interview, “all of these people can’t be delusional – they saw something, they felt something” and by now these stories have spanned two generations!  Thus his telling became investigation, to try and explain the sightings, the energy, which too many people repeat to be made-up. 

At Spangler’s Spring near Culp’s Hill, a “woman in white” has been frequently seen through a number of years.  Nothing is known of this particular specter, however numerous photographers have spoken of a strong camera battery drain at this site, for unknown reasons. 

As the spirits-filled day comes near, perhaps a trip to Gettysburg might be just the spot to enjoy the holiday and see who appears to enjoy it with you! 

Follow the column on Face Book or LinkedIn at Martha Boltz, and by email it’s 

Read more of Martha’s columns on The Civil War at the Communities at the Washington Times.

This article is the copy written property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

More from The Civil War
blog comments powered by Disqus
Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


Contact Martha M. Boltz


Please enable pop-ups to use this feature, don't worry you can always turn them off later.

Question of the Day
Photo Galleries
Popular Threads
Powered by Disqus